Wrapping Up the Week

Wrapping Up the Week

It’s been another busy week in the world of tech. Plenty of last-minute gift guides all over the web but the big news this week has been the Sony Pictures hack and their subsequent decision not to show The Interview. That’s brought security and cyberlaw front and center this week as the debates rage over whether or not caving in to blackmail is a good idea, what steps other firms might take to prevent security breaches, whether or not this was a battle in a cyberwar, and a bit of schadenfreude over the movie industry’s own struggle with the digital era. On top of that, there have been plenty of stories about gadgets coming out in time for CES 2015 early next year and talk about some of the big tech changes in everything from medicine to television.

All of these stories and more were covered on our Twitter feed this week. However, if you’re not following us on Twitter, we’ll recap the highlights for you below!


That’s all for this week. Have a great weekend and we’ll see you again next week!

Throwback Thursday: It’s A Wonderful Life

This is the time of year when all of the big Christmas movies are being played over and over and over again. Everything from the modern Elf with Will Farrell to the classic Miracle on 34th Street (or one of its numerous remakes). There’s also A Christmas Story with the extremely memorable lamp (which I thought was the coolest looking thing next to a lava lamp when I was a kid), The Santa Clause, Dicken’s A Christmas Carol (or any of its remakes/spin-offs), Christmas-themed episodes on sitcoms and even the BBC’s Doctor Who Christmas specials (A Christmas Invasion being one of my personal favorites from NuWho).

But, the granddaddy of all Christmas movies is, and always will be, It’s A Wonderful Life. Even if you’ve never seen this movie in its entirety, chances are that you know the story and events within it. Filmed in the 1940s, this movie was one of the most well-known films from Hollywood’s Golden Era. Though the trope of removing a single character from an established plot and then showing how that plot would have developed without the character there to influence it (sometimes known as the Butterfly Effect Trope) was not necessarily a new idea (Dickens had given an example of it with A Christmas Carol), it did capture the imagination of the Greatest Generation and has become a cultural institution in and of itself.

So, this holiday season, if you get the chance, sit down at watch this film. True, some of the events and references might feel dated but the story is timeless and classic. Even the biggest humbug can benefit from the underlying theme of this Christmas film: reflect on your life and be content with where you are because, without you there, things could be very dark indeed.

Wednesday Recipes: Muffin Time!

In just a few days, kids everywhere will be waking their parents up well before the sun (the lazy sod) even thinks about peeking over the eastern horizon. Excitement and anticipation for seeing what Santa brought and what they got from all the rest of their family will easily overcome the normal early morning low-blood-sugar fatigue in their small bodies. However, for the rest of us, we’re going to need something to give us a bit of energy and wakefulness before we’ll care much for ripping up gift wrap and diving into presents. So, instead of wasting time worrying over what to fix, why not check out these muffin recipes and get them ready for what we all know is going to happen?

Donut Muffins

Ingredients
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup margarine, melted
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup margarine, melted
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease 24 mini-muffin cups.

Mix 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup margarine, and nutmeg in a large bowl. Stir in the milk, then mix in the baking powder and flour until just combined. Fill the prepared mini muffin cups about half full.

Bake in the preheated oven until the tops are lightly golden, 15 to 20 minutes.

While muffins are baking, place 1/4 cup of melted margarine in a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together 1/2 cup of sugar with the cinnamon. Remove muffins from their cups, dip each muffin in the melted margarine, and roll in the sugar-cinnamon mixture. Let cool and serve.

Blueberry Streusel Muffins

Ingredients
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cups blueberries
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter, chilled

Directions
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease muffin cups or line with paper muffin liners.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in the eggs one at a time, beating well with each addition, then stir in the vanilla. In a separate bowl, stir together 2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt.

Stir the flour mixture into egg mixture alternately with milk. Fold in blueberries. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups. In a small bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons flour, brown sugar and cinnamon. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle topping over unbaked muffins.

Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out.

Lytro Illum: A New Generation of Photography

Lytro Illum: A New Generation of Photography

Lytro is a new name in the photography industry. They just started a few years back and work predominately in the area of light-field photography. However, this company is approaching photography in a completely different manner and ignoring a lot of the rules and assumptions that have been set in place since the days when Eastman Kodak stormed the scene and brought photography to the masses. That makes Lytro, and their latest camera, the Lytro Illum, things to look out for and to try out if you get the chance because they may wind up changing the way you think about photography forever.

 

Most cameras contain one sensor and rely on a series of mirrors and lenses to focus light onto the sensor. The shutter and aperture work together to decide how much light reaches the sensor and for how long. A skilled photographer can use all of this information to capture some really great images and to play with light in the camera in a way that seems almost magical. However, with the vast majority of cameras and editing software out there today, if a photo is taken that is out of focus, there is no way to bring it in focus later on. True, you can clean up some aspects and sharpen things a bit with sophisticated photo editing software and a lot of skill and patience. However, all of those things can only take you so far.

Enter the Lytro Illum. This camera ignores the dictates for how lenses, sensors, and processors “should” be designed and goes its own way. The technical details can be a bit overwhelming but, suffice it to say, each sensor acts as its own lens and the camera captures all of the light information and stores it, taking a 3D capture instead of the normal 2D single-plane image that most cameras capture. That’s what allows you to focus an image after capture with the Lytro Illium.

There are some quibbles with the camera and the editing software but, overall, this is a great camera for someone who is looking to get into experimental photography or to play with light in new and interesting ways.

Motion Picture Monday: Gracepoint Finale

Motion Picture Monday: Gracepoint Finale

Last Thursday the final episode of Gracepoint, a ten episode series on Fox, aired. For those of us who were fans of Broadchurch, it’s been pretty obvious who the killer was since episode 8. However, the twist at the end of the final episode truly “threw a spanner in the works” (re: caused a mess) for those of us who thought that the storyline would wind up being point-for-point identical. Don’t get me wrong — there are a lot of similarities between the two series. The localization for the US was pretty good and did not have the feel of “British show with American accents.” Only the most die-hard police/legal procedural fans would notice the missteps regarding the investigation and some of the detectives’ actions and none of those missteps detracted from the story being told.

That said, I really hope that two things will happen next. I really hope that there will be a Gracepoint season two. The finale left plenty of room open for such a thing (unlike the Broadchurch finale which tied up almost all of the major story threads). If Fox is smart, they’ll go ahead and authorize season two. It’s true that Gracepoint wasn’t a huge ratings killer this year (though the rewatch numbers and the units sold numbers were well beyond “good”). However, most of the fault lies with Fox on that because they did a very poor job publicizing it and their activity on social media was abysmal (David Tennant’s fan page and the Broadchurch fan-run community page did much better than Fox). The second thing is that I hope they finally decide where Detective Carver is from in the United States and hire a real voice trainer to work with Tennant on getting that accent down. He did improve over the course of the series but the timbre and meter of his words was still very Scottish. That’s not a problem for me — I love a good Scottish accent. However, the fact that I spent the first three episodes cringing whenever he spoke because my ears were doing the “Where Is He From Game” that almost all of us Americans can play (“Is he from NYC? New Jersey? Maine? Wait, is that supposed to be some version of the General American? Dear Lord, did he just try for the Illinois accent?”) is not a good sign. Tennant is an extremely talented actor and delivered a very compelling performance despite the fact that his accent was so far off the mark that he might as well have been playing a character from Canada.

I’m not going to spoil the end of this series for you. Just know that it has some similarities to but is, at the same time, very different from the ending of Broadchurch and that your first thought after seeing the last minute of the Gracepoint finale will be “okay, what’s going to happen next” versus the “man, that is terrible, poor woman,” thoughts that we all had after the end of Broadchurch.

Gracepoint is a very watchable series with a high rewatchability score in my book. It’s appropriate for anyone ages 10 and up with no nudity, very little foul language, and no significant on-screen violence. If you haven’t had the chance to see it, check your local Fox channel for a re-air schedule or visit iTunes or Google Play to grab the series. It’s definitely worth it.

Wrapping Up the Week

Wrapping Up the Week

It’s been another fun and eventful week in the world of tech and gadgets. This week saw a lot of retrospectives in gaming and some new gaming and gadget announcements coming out for the holidays in just a few weeks. Gift guides on everything from toddler toys to tablets have been posted across the web to help guide the non-tech savvy through some of the more confusing details of shopping for the geeks in their lives. In addition to these stories, though, there have been several big legal stories breaking this week regarding patents, copyright, and data protection. Following the hacks on several major retailers last year, this year is a year when everyone is watching who has their data and what kind of protection they’re offering.

All of these stories and more were featured in our Twitter feed this week. However, if you’re not following us on Twitter, we’ll recap the highlights for you below!


That’s all for this week, everyone! Have a great weekend and we’ll see you again next week.

Throwback Thursday: Nintendo Entertainment System

Throwback Thursday: Nintendo Entertainment System

One of the greatest things to happen in the 1980s was the widespread adoption of home gaming systems. There had been others before Nintendo launched their platform but none enjoyed the level of success that the original Nintendo Entertainment System had. Though it ran only 8-bit graphics, the NES had games that were more well-designed by master game designer Shigeru Miyamoto who had earned his stripes coming up from cabinet arcade games where intuitive and simple controls were mandatory. After the success he’d had with Donkey Kong, Miyamoto developed Super Mario Bros. which went on to become one of the biggest franchises in the gaming world. He also developed the still-hugely popular Legend of Zelda, Star Fox, F-Zero, and Pikmin.

Miyamoto may be the major reason for Nintendo’s massive success. He was able to create games that would use the same controller — not requiring owners to purchase multiple controllers for different games. He was also able to make games that were deeply immersive and tapped the imagination of an entire generation of children.

Another reason for Nintendo’s success was its generally sturdiness. Marketed for families with children, the console was simple to operate and could stand up to reasonable knocking around. The game cartridges were also very durable and the controllers, with no joystick, were much more difficult to break.

The original NES was a big part of putting gaming on the map of mainstream culture and took a failing industry and turned it around, helping to build a multi-billion dollar industry that has been a mainstay of art and tech for over forty years.

Wednesday Recipes: Saucey Sauces Edition

Here at the BuyDig Blog we often spend a lot of time focusing on main dishes, side dishes, or desserts. However, frequently none of these recipes would be good without some kind of additional sauce to punch them up a bit. Sauces can add flavor, texture, and contrast to a dish — providing sweet and zesty to pasta plates, richness to certain savory meats, and sweet and sour to Asian dishes. So, today, we’re going to look into two great sauce recipes that are easy to make and go well with a variety of dishes and meals.

Mole Sauce

Ingredients
2 cups chicken broth
2 dried guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
2 dried ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
3 dried chipotle chiles, stemmed and seeded
1 dinner roll, torn into pieces
2 corn tortillas, cut into 1-inch strips
2 cups chicken broth
2 tomatoes, cut in half crosswise
5 tomatillos, cut in half crosswise
1 tablespoon lard
1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 head garlic, peeled and sliced
1/3 cup chopped peanuts
1/4 cup raisins
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon dried thyme
3 cinnamon sticks
5 whole cloves
6 whole allspice berries
5 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup chicken broth
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon salt

Directions
Heat 2 cups chicken broth in a saucepan until it begins to simmer, about 5 minutes. Pour broth into a blender.

Toast guajillo chiles, ancho chiles, and chipotle chiles in a dry pan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until warm and aromatic, about 3 minutes. Transfer to the blender with chicken broth.

Toast dinner roll pieces and tortilla strips in a dry pan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Transfer to the blender with chicken broth and chiles

Allow the chiles and toasted bread and tortillas to soak, fully submerged, in the chicken broth until softened, about 10 minutes. Blend the mixture until smooth.

Cook tomatoes and tomatillos in a dry skillet on medium-high heat until soft and blackened, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Place tomatoes in the blender with the chile puree.

Melt lard in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in onion, garlic, peanuts, raisins, cumin seeds, thyme, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and allspice berries; cook and stir until onions are soft and golden, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove the cinnamon sticks and other whole spices; add onion mixture to the blender with the chile-tomato mixture and blend until smooth.

Pour chile puree into a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in chocolate chicken broth, sugar, and salt. Bring mixture to a simmer; stir until chocolate is melted and sauce is thickened and slightly reduced, 10 to 15 minutes.

Basic Beurre Blanc

Ingredients
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped shallot
1 bay leaf
6 black peppercorns
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons dry white wine
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

Directions
Place shallot, bay leaf, peppercorns, vinegar, and wine in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and continue simmering until only 2 tablespoons of liquid remain.

Pour in heavy cream and bring to a simmer; simmer until the cream has reduced by half. Increase heat to medium-high, and rapidly whisk in the butter, piece, by piece until it has melted into the cream and thickened it. Strain the sauce through a mesh strainer to remove the spices. Serve immediately.

For help with making these dishes, check out our selection of saucepans and skillets in our kitchen and housewares department.

Tech Talk Tuesday: The All-New Nikon 1 V3

Nikon has a long history of producing some of the highest quality cameras and lenses for the consumer, prosumer, and professional markets. Their attention to detail and dedication to researching the latest and greatest in lensing, sensor, and photography technology has given them a well-earned reputation for being on the cutting edge in the industry. However, sometimes it takes them a few attempts to get a brand-new line perfect. I am happy to report that with the Nikon 1 V3, I can say that the third time really is the charm.

The Nikon 1 V3 packs all the power of a DSLR but without the size and bulk. It’s got a slim profile and fits easily in a pocket without the lens, making it easy to carry around when you’re out with another camera. With the 10-30mm lens that came with it, the 1 V3 can take some really amazing photos. The built-in WiFi is very nice and allows for you to control the camera remotely using Nikon’s control app. The touchscreen on the back is a real godsend and lets you customize every setting from volume control to ISO and visual noise reduction. The screen also tilts out of the camera and can be used as both the image-viewer and a stablizer in a pinch. The Nikon 1 V3 also has twin control dials and two customizable function buttons compared to the previous gen’s lack of same. The V2’s electronic viewfinder has been replaced by the touchscreen, though, but it remains available as an optional add-on. The V3 also has a much slimmer profile than the V2 which makes it easier to carry around though some may find the grip add-on useful for both its extra button and the contours it adds to a slim, boxy camera body.

The fast and sophisticated AF in this camera coupled with the 18.4MP CX-format CMOS sensor and the lack of anti-aliasing lets the Nikon 1 V3 take some very sharp and detailed photos. It can also capture 1080/60p video and save it to a microSD card. For still photography, it can pull out a whooping 20fps for continual shooting with auto-focus. My only real gripes with the camera are that the touchscreen collects a ridiculous amount of oil and smudges easily — something that can probably be fixed by re-purposing a smartphone screen protector — and that it can’t be connected to a wireless network to upload or store photos. For that, you need to have a microSD card and a microSD card reader. Other than that, though, this is a great camera to keep around!

Motion Picture Monday: Why the Midseason Breaks?

Motion Picture Monday: Why the Midseason Breaks?

One question that frequently came up both when I was growing up and more recently is “why do so many television programs seem to take a break mid-season?” Right now, The Walking Dead, The Big Bang Theory, and several other shows are either on or about to begin their mid-season hiatus where regular programming is suspended and either no or only a few seasonally-themed episodes will air. Additionally, some series are ending altogether instead of continuing into the spring season (notably Gracepoint) and some shows just introduced this fall might even be cancelled (much like what happened with Firefly).

Why is this? Well, the average television show, whether thirty or sixty minutes long (with commercial breaks) consists of between twenty and twenty-four episodes per season. Without a few weeks of interrupted programming, these shows would end well before the season ends in the spring which would require more episodes (and thus more money and time) to shoot and produce them. Additionally, the post-Thanksgiving to New Years’ holidays are a major sweeps time in television and a time when once-per-year programming comes into play as people get into the holiday spirit and may be traveling to visit family (which results in a serious impact on ratings). The mid-season break also helps the producers to plan on airing certain episodes at a particular date so they can take that into account during the shooting and the actors can let that influence their performance.

Though the sudden and dramatic change in a predictable schedule to an unpredictable one can be disturbing to some creatures of habit (such as myself) it does serve a purpose beyond just annoying us. Therefore, if your favorite shows are on hiatus for the mid-season at the moment, take the time to enjoy that and to visit fansites and engage in speculation about what might be coming up in the mid-season premiere!